Saving Atlantic right whales: NOAA weighs new rules for fishing gear

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. (NOAA/NMFS Photo)

Federal ocean regulators are considering new rules to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales from fishing gear.

The whales number only about 360 and are vulnerable to entanglement in the gear. Most of the government's efforts to protect them have focused on regulating gear used to harvest lobsters and Jonah crabs.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it is working on a new phase of rules that will focus on other fisheries, including those that use gillnets and those that use traps and pots. Lobster and crab gear is the primary threat to the whales but they are also vulnerable to gear used to harvest fish, conch, and other valuable species, said Allison Ferreira, a spokeswoman for the agency.

NOAA said it's hosting a series of webinars with members of the fisheries in September and October. The agency said the webinars will be used to gather input about the forthcoming rules.

NOAA has also been working on new rules for the lobster and crab fisheries. The agency said those rules are expected to be finalized soon.

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Aerial image of a whale and dolphins feeding at the surface of Massachusetts Bay

A North Atlantic right whale and Atlantic white-sided dolphins feeding in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay. (NOAA Photo)